Last week we published an open letter to Canada’s self-professed progressive party, the NDP, asking they be accountable to women in Canada as well as to feminists and leftists who’ve supported the party in the past. After Craig Scott, the NDP incumbent in Toronto-Danforth (Jack Layton’s old riding), announced that, if elected, the party would repeal Bill C-36, many of us were shocked. How could a party that claimed to desire social equality be opposed to a bill that challenged male violence and sexual exploitation? We’d wondered if Scott was speaking out of turn, especially considering that we were aware of a number of NDP candidates/MPs who supported the Nordic model, which the bill was modeled after.
Close to 100 men and women signed on to the letter, asking their progressive representatives to clarify their position and reaffirm their commitment to gender equality and to supporting marginalized women in Canada. Today, Mulcair and the NDP responded.
While the statement affirms that the “New Democrats believe the health and safety of women must be at the forefront when considering any legislation flowing from the Bedford decision,” and reasserts the party’s interest in developing a “a national strategy on violence against women, funding for shelters to support women and children fleeing violence,” they, in the next breath, reject the legislation as “a political game.”
But this is no game. This is about real women’s lives — all women’s lives. Mulcair’s dismissal of the voices of all the experts, front-line workers, sex trade survivors, socialists and feminists across the country as simply being part of “a political game” is unacceptable. His dismissal of the relentless, unpaid work done by women and men, not only across Canada, but throughout the world, educating people about the Nordic model and about how the system of prostitution really works as “game” shows an abhorrent level of disrespect for all of us who are fighting for true equality and justice.
If anyone is playing a “game,” it’s Mulcair and his cronies, who appear entirely committed to the longstanding boys’ club that’s existed on the left for decades, ignorant to or simply uninterested in the plight of women. No man who doesn’t reject prostitution outright — who doesn’t understand that it is wrong to buy sex — should be trusted. No man who who doesn’t understand prostitution to be part of a global system of oppression, rooted in colonialism and imperialism, can be trusted. No man who claims prostitution is “simply a job like any other” is a true progressive. The commodification and abuse of women is not progressive.
Mulcair falls back on the Bedford decision to support his attack on Bill C-36, claiming concern for women’s “health and safety,” but not once in the statement do we hear mention of the one thing that endangers women in prostitution: men. Within all this lip service paid to “vulnerable women” and the rights of Canadians to “live free of violence,” not once is there an acknowledgment of the system of prostitution as a key factor in that violence faced by vulnerable women.
How and why does Mulcair think vulnerable women end up in the sex trade? What does he think happens once they get there?
The statement concludes with this: “We need to develop a comprehensive and balanced strategy that combats exploitation while ensuring that sex workers are able to protect themselves and live in safety.”
Indeed we do need a comprehensive strategy, and one exists in the Nordic model. Bill C-36 explicitly targets exploitation, decriminalizing women in prostitution in order for them to have access to law enforcement and the services they need, safely.
The only alternative to this model is to decriminalize the very men doing the harm and exploitation, which, it seems fairly clear, is Mulcair’s intent.
I’ll admit, this kind of betrayal never stops hurting. It comes as a painful shock every time. Of course, women’s pain has never been of much concern to men who are playing at politics.